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The City of Covington has hired a local Louisiana law firm, Porteous Hainkel & Johnson LLP to take on America’s pharmaceutical industry for knowingly mislabeling and misrepresenting their opiate-based drugs which have resulted in a spiraling addiction crisis across the nation, according to a news release from the Brylski media relations firm in New Orleans.

The epidemic has resulted in thousands of deaths and rising costs in safety, public health and other local services needed to treat the problems created, according to attorney William Lozes.

On January 16, 2018, the Covington City Council gave Mayor Mike Cooper the authority to retain Porteous, Hainkel & Johnson LLP for representation in a civil action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Porteous, represented by local attorneys Ralph Alexis and Lozes, is part of a national leadership team of attorneys that includes lead consultant Stuart Smith LLC, Kevin Thompson, Kevin Malone and Kent H. Robbins. Their clients will consist of hospitals, parishes, counties, cities, non-profit health providers, drug rehab centers, coroners, foster care agencies, and other public third-parties like local police departments in states from Missouri, West Virginia, New York, Florida, Ohio, Minnesota and Texas.

“The legal team will help local governments like Covington in attempts to recoup the unreimbursed expenses for dealing with a drug crisis which is reducing American’s life-expectancy and resulting in a death-rate that now out-paces violent gun deaths in the nation’s largest cities,” Lozes said.

St. Tammany Parish saw an outbreak of heroin related deaths in January. Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz recently joined police chiefs and sheriffs from around the country at the White House to give a local face to the problem, since death overdoses now out-pace car-related deaths 2-to-1.

“Our law enforcement and criminal justice system is on the front lines of dealing with the crisis, which is impacting families from every spectrum of our society,” Cooper said. “We have chosen a local law firm, Porteous Hainkel & Johnson LLP, with 90 years of experience and four offices in Louisiana to help us seek reimbursement for the incredible public costs created by this rampant problem.

“Hopefully, we can recover some of the extensive costs that the City has incurred dealing with this rampant problem and put the money into treatment programs to address the opioid addiction problem firsthand.”

The contracted legal team, along with other top nationally recognized “super lawyers,” has extensive experience prosecuting claims for impacted plaintiffs across the United States.

“Our team is ready to protect the interests of all those who have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of the callous actions of the drug manufacturers,” Lozes said. “It’s time for the legal and medical professions to stand up and work together to help solve this health crisis.”

“Due to extensive public indebtedness on federal and state levels, it seems reasonable and logical to conclude that those who profit off this health disaster should pay,” Smith said. “The American civil justice system is well suited for this purpose.”

The team alleges that civil lawsuits brought against the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, opioid drug distributors and/or wholesalers, and big retail pharmacies are the only way to remedy the prescription opioid drug epidemic.

Prospective plaintiffs include public entities, like, the City of Covington, and private ones such as hospitals, which have massive unreimbursed expenses from opioid-related issues.

Some of the facts presented by the law group and its medical expert Dr. Brent Bell, PA-C/Radiation Oncology, include:

  • Prescription opioids killed almost twice as many people in the U.S. as heroin in 2014, and surpassed car accident deaths in the U.S;
  • Nearly 100 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, and half of all overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid;
  • 91% of persons who have a non-fatal overdose of opioids are prescribed opioids again within one year;
  • Seven in 10 opioids overdoses that are treated in an ER are for prescription opioids;
  • The Centers for Disease Control in 2016 disputed pharmaceutical company claims that opiate addiction is not possible in patients with chronic pain;
  •  CDC and Federal Drug Administration guidelines in 2016 also stated that the benefits of high opiate dosage for chronic pain are not established and not proven to increase patient function or have a long-term benefit in reducing pain.

“America’s opioid crisis has resulted in huge and non-reimbursable expenses related to ER visits, training costs, lost employee productivity due to addiction, increased need for police resources, and the under-reported impact on foster care where one-third of all children entering are from drug addicted households,” Lozes said.

“Facts show that pharmaceutical drug companies and their distribution partners exaggerated the benefits of opioids, downplayed risks and consequences, knew the drugs were being overly prescribed, yet failed to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit and monitor the dose,” Smith said.

The lawsuits also focus on distributors’ violation of the Controlled Substances Act by failing to report the unusual patterns associated with the opioid purchases and use. The attorneys point to multiple on-the-record admissions of wrongdoing by many manufacturers and distributors of opioids. Many of these target defendants have pleaded guilty to criminal violation and/or paid massive fines; their liability is unquestioned, according to Smith.

“We’re proud to represent the City of Covington and others in Louisiana,” Lozes said. “It’s time to help those like Chief Lentz, who are putting their lives on the line through programs like Operation Angel to deal with a problem that clearly has been created in the name of profit.”

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Yet another ugly controversy involving a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), has surfaced this one involving claims by an Opelousas organization that one of LSPC’s newest members, Harold Pierite, Sr., attempted to shake down the group for thousands of dollars during its annual event held on land owned by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe in Marksville.

Organizers told LouisianaVoice that Pierite threatened to shut down the Step-N-Strut trail ride on its final day—the most important day of the event—unless they paid him $10,000 in cash. They said they ultimately paid him “about $4,000,” but many attendees pulled out early in the belief that the last day was being shut down.

The reports set off a belated denial by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and counter-denials by organizers of the event.

Pierite, the Tunica-Biloxi Police Chief, was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last March to the Louisiana State Police COMMISSION, which was created in 1991 to provide an independent civil service system for Louisiana State Troopers, said the demand for more money or his threat to close the event down “never happened.”

Pierite has served as a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Council for more than 15 years and as Chief of the Tunica-Biloxi Police Department for more than 20 years. He is a 1992 graduate of the Acadiana Law Enforcement Training Academy.

The Step-N-Strut Trail Ride is held the first week of each November and horse owners from all over the U.S. participate, according to Dave and Torry Lemelle, organizers of the annual three-day event.

The Lemelles have sponsored the event for the past 19 years, moving it from location to location in the state over the years. “We hold our trail ride the first week in November and participants come in from North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and all over,” Torry Lemelle told LouisianaVoice.

She said trail rides are hosted by different clubs virtually every weekend. “They come to ours and we go to theirs,” she said. Participants pay a fee for attending the trail rides. (Click HERE to see a video of the grand entrance for this year’s event.)

Dave Lemelle said this year’s event was attended by about 3,000 persons and “between 400 and 500 horses.” Torry Lemelle said the trail ride is “like a music festival, only with horses.” She said bands play and participants hold cookouts and camp out on the grounds.

“This year, we held the trail ride on property the Tunica-Biloxi Trust in Marksville,” Dave Lemelle said.

The Lemelles provided copies of correspondence from Pierite in which he agreed to provide security at a flat fee of $30 per reservation officer and $40 per hour per State Trooper. He later tried to inflate the cost by claiming that more officers would be required, including State Police for traffic control on the highway leading to the reservation.

“They (Pierite and his chief deputy, Chico Mose) wanted us to pay for 24-hour security. This was not necessary,” Torry Lemelle said. “Chief Pierite was also going to give me one invoice to pay so that he could pay the officers. In informed him that each officer would be getting paid at the end of each night, according to the hours that we verified. Each officer also had to fill out a W-9 form.”

She said Pierite initially indicated on Oct. 6 that the cost to the organization would be $112,000. “We told Chief Pierite that the event could not afford the security that he wanted to provide (and) if we could not come to an agreement, we would have to cancel the event.

“He told us that he was sure that we would be able to come to an agreement and that he would revise the assignment. On Oct. 19, I received the revised detail assignment totaling $59,150. This revised assignment still had security for 24 hours.

“We spoke to the Louisiana State Police and they informed us that they do not require us to have State Troopers on the highway.”

She said on Oct. 20, the organization presented Pierite with a detailed assignment based on the past five years of security costs to Step-N-Strut’s annual trail ride at other location. She said security for past events totaled about $35,000.

“On Oct. 23, we received a denial letter for our detail assignments,” she said.

Pierite’s letter was addressed to Paul Scott. “Paul is a good friend of ours who has been organizing festivals for about 30 years,” Mrs. Lemelle said. “He also sits on the board of the Festival International De Louisiane. He has been helping us organize this event for the past six years. He is the one who actually met with Harold” on several occasions and was the one who paid Pierite for the security detail.

Dave Lemelle said that Keenan Malveaux, Pierite’s nephew, approached him prior to the event and demanded an additional payment of $35,000 in cash “to make it happen.” “He specifically said he wanted the payment in ‘untraceable’ cash,” Lemelle said.

“I asked what the additional money was for and he said, ‘To take care of some people.’ When I pressed him on who those ‘people’ were, he said it was for members of the Tribal Council.”

Following negotiations, Pierite’s denial, and the Tribal Council’s overturn of that denial, the trail ride finally got underway until the morning of Sunday, Nov. 5, when Pierite appeared to say he was shutting the event down, Lemelle said.

Pierite then left and was gone for five hours, he said. In the meantime, the Lemelles set about contacting Tribal Council members to have Pierite’s actions overturned again. “In the meantime,” Lemelle said, “news of the threatened cancellation spread like wildfire and people started packing up and leaving. There were some who heard about it on the way in and just turned around and left before they even got to the event.”

When Pierite returned five hours later, he demanded a payment of $10,000. “He said State Police and the FBI wanted the trail ride shut down.

Lemelle said Pierite was eventually paid “about $4,000.” But the damage was done.

Torry Lemelle said, “Chief Pierite extorted money from us throughout the whole process, using his authority, threatening to cancel this event if we did not pay him. When he realized that he was not getting any more money, he cancelled our event on Sunday morning, causing us to lose not only money but a large amount of our supporters. (He) used his authority to intimidate people and extort money.”

Pierite, contacted by LouisianaVoice on Monday, denied that he demanded money from the Lemelles, saying it “never happened.” He also denied that he threatened to shut down the event on its last day. Asked if he spoke to Dave Lemelle, he said, “Yes, I spoke with him, but not about that.”

Mose, also contacted by LouisianaVoice, appeared surprised by the claim that there was a threat to shut the event down, but he did not deny the allegation. He said he would check out the story and get back. He never did, however, although we did receive an official statement from a Tribal Council member through the offices of the Enrhardt Group, a New Orleans corporate communications and marketing firm.

Marshall Ray Sampson, Sr., vice chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, issued a statement through Enrhardt several hours after LouisianaVoice‘s inquiries about the dispute over the money:

“The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana was thrilled to be a part of the Step-N-Strut event this year and hope that all who attended had a wonderful experience. The annual event, which draws thousands of participants and their horses to the area, was unfortunately disrupted and subsequently delayed due to the actions of one participant.

“Late Saturday evening the Tribal Police department received reports that an event participant had shot a gun into the air. Thankfully, despite the crowds in the area, no one was hurt. Due to the quick response of the Tunica-Biloxi Police and security teams the area was quickly locked down. After assessing the situation for safety concerns it was determined that the event could not proceed without further security in place. Following the incident Tunica-Biloxi Police were forced to shut down the event late Saturday evening. Tribal leaders participated in consultations between the mayor and event organizers. After considering several options, it was determined the event could continue on Sunday morning, though slightly delayed.

Sampson’s claims that additional security was justified (thereby accounting for more costs) and that the event “was forced to shut down” were at odds with Pierite’s denial that more money was sought from the trail ride or that he had moved to have it shut down, leading to the conclusion that Sampson and Pierite failed to get together after our initial call to coordinate their stories.

“Events like the Step-N-Strut are widely loved and it is unfortunate that the actions of one participant resulted in a disruption. The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe is working with the mayor’s office and event organizers to ensure that measures are in place moving forward to provide the full scope of security needed so the Step-N-Strut can continue on for years to come. We thank the security teams and Tribal Police for their quick response and are grateful no one was hurt and that the event, though slightly delayed on Sunday, was able to continue on to completion.”

Mrs. Lemelle was incensed at what she termed a self-serving statement from Sampson, calling it “a complete lie,” saying Sampson didn’t even know the Sunday schedule was shut down “until we contacted him.”

She said, “First of all, we were told it was a member of the Tunica-Biloxi police department who fired the gun, not one of our participants. Second, if it was shut down, why did the Tunica-Biloxi deputies arrive for security on Sunday morning? They all came on duty as if nothing was wrong because there was no shutdown until Pierite came on the scene and told us he was closing it down unless he got another $10,000. The mayor never even knew about the shutdown,” she said.

There were also unconfirmed reports that the Tribal Council is conducting an investigation of Pierite.

Because whatever did happen occurred on tribal property, state authorities would have no power to investigate or arrest anyone. Any criminal investigation and/or prosecution would have to be conducted by the Tribal Council, the FBI, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The only remedy within the state’s purview would be for Gov. Edwards to remove Pierite from the State Police Commission.

 

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I was in attendance at one of my grandchildren’s school Veterans’ Day programs on Thursday and unable to attend the first meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) in several months but suffice it to say something major is brewing with this newly-made over body.

And whatever it is doesn’t to appear to bode well for the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA).

It was the first meeting of the commission since August which, coincidentally, was also the last meeting for former Chairman State Trooper T.J. Doss and former Vice Chair Monica Manzella. Both have since resigned and Doss, LouisianaVoice is told, has been on extended sick leave.

Doss was succeeded to the chairman’s position by Baton Rouge attorney Eulis Simien, Jr. and Dr. Michael W. Neustrom of Lafayette replaced Manzella as vice chairman.

But most puzzling was the executive session entered into by the commission.

When the motion was made to go into closed session the belated reason given was to discuss pending litigation—even though there is no pending litigation at the present time against the commission.

Upon exiting, however, commission legal counsel Lenore Feeney amended that reason, saying the executive session was for the discussion of “allegations of misconduct,” according to some in attendance.

And upon returned from behind closed doors, commission members were said to be in a much fouler mood than when they went in, an indication there may have been something a little more intense taking place out of sight of attendees.

Simien, normally an amiable sort, immediately launched into a lecture to those there about how business would be conducted differently in the future and that decorum would strictly adhered to.

If there is to be any investigation of “alleged misconduct,” it could be on one or both of two issues: that San Diego trip taken by State Police in October of 2016 and which resulted in disciplinary action against three troopers who have appealed their discipline to the commission.

The commission voted to consolidate the three appeals into one case and also decided to discard the non-report of Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend who was paid $75,000 to investigate and report on possible illegal campaign contributions by the LSTA to various politicians.

The campaign contributions were actually made through the LSTA’s executive director David Young’s personal checking account. Young subsequently billed the association for reimbursement in an apparent effort to circumvent state law prohibiting political activity by state classified employees.

Taylor’s contract, for which he was paid $75,000, called for him to investigate the matter and submit a report of his findings to the LSPC. Instead, he simply told the commission that he recommended “no action” be taken on the matter and the board, which had a completely different makeup at that time, accepted his report.

Since then, the entire board membership, as well as its executive director, has changed dramatically, with almost all the members resigning for various reasons.

Townsend has yet to submit a report the board even though he has been asked to do so on several occasions.

Now, apparently, with a new board in place—with the exception of two positions which remain vacant—a change of heart has taken place and the commission is at least acting like it is serious about investigating the contributions.

One thing is for certain, however:

If the commission was unsure of the real reason for Thursday’s executive session, that can only mean its purpose was illegitimate to begin with. There are specific reasons for executive sessions and the law is narrowly written so as to prevent abuse of the state’s open meeting laws.

To give one reason going into executive session only to change the reason upon exiting is subterfuge in its most blatant form and an action that thumbs its nose at the law itself—from an agency whose very purpose is to ensure compliance with the law.

If there is to be an executive session, public bodies in Louisiana are required to give notice in advance, as an agenda item—in other words, in writing—and to give the reason. Anything else is a lie. They can’t make up the rules on the fly. And they certainly can’t go into closed session and decide the reason for the secrecy after the fact.

Any legal counsel who advises a public agency, body, board, or commission should know the state’s open meetings law (R.S. 42:11) and the Executive Session provision (R.S. 42:16) forward and backward. That requirement comes with the job. http://parlouisiana.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Open_Meetings_Law.pdf

We thought they had learned that in one memorable meeting several months ago when Townsend suggested an executive session and when asked the reason, said—with a perfectly straight face—“We don’t have to give one.”

Uh…yes you do. And it’s more than a little disturbing that it took a layman to inform him of the law at that meeting.

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Louisiana State Police (LSP) has suspended three State Troopers and shut down a cooperative program with 44 parishes from Webster to Jefferson, from Calcasieu to East Carroll following a months-long investigation by New Orleans television reporter Lee Zurik that revealed the troopers were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime they may not have actually worked.

The action to shut down Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE), a program in which state police are paid to conduct traffic patrol for local district attorneys, came after Zurik and New Orleans FOX 8 TV station surveillance found that troopers were in their homes much of the time for which they were being paid for doing patrol.

State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, immediately upon learning of the Zurik findings, ordered the SUSPENSION OF THE LACE PROGRAM and also ordered a criminal investigation into what could ultimately be determined as payroll fraud.

Under the program, local district attorneys contract with LSP for the patrols. The parish keeps all fines written by the troopers and reimburses LSP for troopers’ overtime salaries.

The three troopers who were suspended, all from Southeast Louisiana and New Orleans, combined to receive some $340,000 in LACE payments. The three troopers who were suspended, their salaries, their years of service, and their LACE payments over the past year, in parenthesis, include:

  • Master Trooper Daryl J. Thomas, a veteran of 22 years earning $89,300 ($150,000 in LACE payments);
  • Hazmat Specialist Eric Curlee, 19 years with LSP earning $99,800 ($100,000 LACE);
  • Byron G. Sims, polygraphist, 22 years with LSP, earning $109,000 ($90,000 LACE).

A fourth trooper under investigation is already out on sick leave and has not been suspended as yet. Because he has not yet been suspended, his name was not immediately available.

LouisianaVoice revealed in August that former Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) member Monica Manzella, as part of her duties as an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans, signed off on LACE contracts between the city and LSP but she signed the contracts before being appointed to LSPC and she had no additional oversight responsibilities.

A retired State Trooper said that abuse of the LACE program is not restricted to the New Orleans area and that “there are dozens of troopers out there who have been less than honest on their LACE timesheets. And it’s been going on for years,” he said.

A 29-page report by the State Office of Inspector General in 2010 would seem to back up that claim. The REPORT, dated April 27, 2010, examined overtime for employees of both LSP and the Department of Health and Hospitals. It said that as much as 30 percent of all LSP overtime in 2008 could be attributed to LACE. Even then, it was noted that one trooper earned more than $80,000 in overtime pay.

A story by LouisianaVoice on Dec. 15, 2015, revealed that Trooper JIMMY ROGERS (now retired) was disciplined by former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in 2010 to a 240-hour reduction in pay for 30 pay periods (60 weeks), representing a penalty of more than $4,800. But on Nov. 13, 2015, it was revealed by then-Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy that Rogers was allowed to make up for the suspension by working LACE patrol.

Dupuy said in his letter to then-Troop D Commander Capt. Chris Guillory that from Jan. 6, 2011, to Aug. 9, 2011, “Trooper Rogers worked 16 LACE overtime details in violation of (policy) in effect at that time.”

Guillory told Internal Affairs investigators he was unaware of the policy and that he failed to inform Rogers’s immediate supervisor that Rogers was serving a disciplinary action.

LSP Public Information Officer Doug Cain told LouisianaVoice that subsequent to Zurik’s revelation of his findings, State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves immediately ordered the criminal investigation and the statewide shutdown of LACE.

Cain said there are three steps to the investigation. First, there will be the criminal investigation, followed by an Internal Affairs investigation. Following the IA investigation’s report, an administrative investigation would be conducted and a decision made on disciplinary action against those involved. A decision will be made on reinstatement of the LACE program pending the outcome of the department’s evaluation of the program.

“We hope to re-start the program at some point,” he said.

Unfortunately, the latest revelations by Zurik are nothing new and that this type of payroll chicanery has been going on for years.

The story of payroll fraud by some LSP Troopers is old news. It has been reported time and time again but no action is taken until the press gets wind of it. Zurik is to be commended for his dedication by conducting a surveillance operation. LSP has yet to learn that Lee did exactly what LSP should have been doing all along.

Any Trooper that spends his time at home while he is supposed to be working can only accomplish that feat with the tacit or purposeful approval of supervision. LSP has yet to hold a single supervisor accountable for failure to supervise troopers who write their set number of tickets (quota) and go home.

Let’s look back at Troop D. There were two troopers who were allowed to resign amid similar accusations. Their supervisors faced zero punishment for the actions they allowed. The common denominator of the two troopers was shift Lieutenant Paul Brady of Beauregard Parish. He supervised both Jimmy Rogers and RONNIE PICOU.

Picou was initially terminated, later allowed to resign, after an investigation revealed massive absences from his shift to include 50 shifts with no work product. LSP failed to even address the partial absences from duty. Troopers anonymously reported Picou for his actions. The response was to give the investigation over to his friends, Capt. Chris Guillory and now retired Lt. Jim Jacobsen.

Guillory cleared Picou and doubled down by allowing him to continue with his practice of writing an assigned number of citations and taking the remainder of the shift off. Brady replaced Jacobsen as the supervisor for Picou upon Jacobsen’s retirement. Picou was finally terminated after public records requests by LouisianaVoice. LSP could have surveilled Picou just as Zurik did but chose to not to. The internal investigation files showed Picou was committing payroll fraud but he was never held accountable for his actions. Nor was Brady.

Jimmy Rogers resigned suddenly after allegations of payroll fraud involving LACE. A trooper who worked with Rogers informed LouisianaVoice that Rogers did exactly what the troopers who are now under investigation did. He wrote his assigned number of citations and took the rest of the shift off. Rogers allegedly took it a step further by writing LACE citations on regular state funded shift and claimed them as overtime. This is more egregious than what Zurik has discovered. Rogers was allowed to resign.

There were efforts to obtain the investigation files on Roger’s departure from LSP. LSP has enthusiastically kept them from public view. An audit of radio logs, LACE citations, and dash cam videos will confirm that Roger’s conduct was more egregious than what Lee Zurik has discovered. We think it is time that LSP held former Trooper Rogers accountable for his actions. The statute of limitations has yet to expire on felony crimes. Picou’s supervisor, Paul Brady was not punished, according to our public records requests.

When it comes to investigating payroll fraud, LSP appears to be incapable or unwilling—or at least so it seemed under Edmonson’s and Secretary of Public Safety and Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc’s leadership. The media seemed to figure it out. When a crime is committed, do an investigation. That investigation might include surveilling the target of the investigation. It seems that investigatory prowess is lost when investigating their own.

One thing seems certain: Reeves did not deserve the mess he inherited from Edmonson.

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A three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge has scheduled arguments for Tuesday in the state’s appeal of a DECISION by a 19th Judicial District Court judge last March that knocked down much of the Jindal administration’s arbitrary rule changes in the approval of medical treatment for state employees injured on the job.

The decision was another in a long line of “reform” movements by Jindal—and pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—that were subsequently found to be unconstitutional or simply fell apart. Some of those included public education funding, group medical coverage for state employees, public-private partnerships in the operation of state hospitals, prison privatizations and tax proposals.

In his March 30 seven-page REASONS for JUDGMENT that followed a Feb. 7 bench trial, District Judge Don Johnson noted that:

Because the legislature did not authorize OWC to create a new rule creating a “tacit denial” when the provider simply ignores a request for treatment, “the Office of Workers Compensation exceeded its legislative authority as (it) lacks the authority to create and implement procedural regulations that authorize the ‘tacit denial of requested medical treatment which is statutorily obligated to the injured worker by the employer pursuant to (state statute).”

Johnson also found that OWC promulgated rules requiring injured workers to meet a higher burden than the state statute for any variance in an injured worker’s treatment schedule are “vague and the regulations are arbitrary, denying injured workers’ medical treatment that Louisiana employers are statutorily obligated to provide…”

Johnson also found that the “scheme” for determining whether an injured worker can receive medical treatment outside the Louisiana medical treatment guidelines (MTG) “is unduly burdensome.”

Special Assistant to the Director Carey Holliday testified that he was hired to help “bring the judges into conformity,” according to the answer to the state’s appeal filed by attorney J. Arthur Smith III on behalf of several plaintiffs. Holiday did that by implementing judicial performance evaluations. While he acknowledged he could not tell judges how to rule, he could “put them together and let them talk” and that “there will be some conformity…to come out of that,” Smith said in his answer.

The most damning revelation to come out of last February’s trial was testimony of improper Ex Parte communication between insurance carriers and defense attorneys about the merits of injury claims pending before OWC judges. Those communications were usually in the form of emails.

For example, one such email from a workers’ compensation defense attorney to former OWC Director Wes Hataway, Holliday, and the OWC chief judge contained complaints that one judge had ruled against an employer. The email went on to say of the judge, “He should be fired immediately,” and implied that the judge’s skills were less than those of a first-year law student. “He will do as he pleases no matter what,” the email said. “If this isn’t grounds to fire a judge, I don’t know what is.” The defense attorney ended his email by saying, “I think it’s time for the W.C. judges to become accountable for their actions.”

Judge Johnson took a dim view of this disregard for judicial independence by the 2011 decision to remove of the decision-making authority of the OWC judges and place it in the hands of the OWC Medical Director, Dr. Christopher Rich.

Johnson ruled that OWC “has violated the separation of powers doctrine by compromising judicial independence” by giving unpreceded powers to Dr. Rich, who was awarded a $500,000 contract to serve as medical director.

Rich, if nothing else, is consistent. Previously involved in ethical problems with another state contract, LouisianaVoice wrote about an apparent conflict of interest. In March 2011, the State Ethics Board ruled that he was prohibited, in his capacity as Medical director of OWC from participating in any matter involving Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital, a facility in which he owned an interest and which provided medical treatment to injured workers.

As OWC Medical Director, he could deny coverage to a state employee and then refer the employee to Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital for private treatment.

And did he ever deny coverage to state employees once ensconced as medical director. He even testified in February that he ignored the clinical judgment of treating physicians, even specialists, giving no weight to the recommendations of treating physicians. Moreover, according to his own testimony, he never examined an injured worker even though he made the final decision on what, if any, medical treatment the employee would receive. He even overruled a neurosurgeon’s recommendation that an employee undergo a cervical fusion because he, Rich, did not deem it necessary.

Attorney Janice Valois Barber testified in February that Rich had denied 100 percent of her clients’ requests for medical treatment variances. Dr. John Logan also testified by deposition that 100 percent of his variances likewise had been denied by Dr. Rich. Dr. Logan said that many of his patients simply gave up, knowing they would never get approval for the medical treatment they needed.

Dr. Pierce Nunley testified that he performs spinal surgery on almost a daily basis. He said he has attempted to contact Dr. Rich regarding Rich’s repeated refusals of request for treatments that vary from the MTG but was never able to get through to Rich nor did Rich return his calls.

So now, the state is continuing to pour good money after bad by appealing the decision of the lower court in an effort to uphold what was—and is—a very bad policy in dealing with people’s lives.

To us, it doesn’t seem quite right that one man, who never even once examined a patient would deny 100 percent of all requests for variances in the normal medical treatment guidelines. Surely there were a couple of valid claims in all of that.

But by consistently rejecting each and every claim, Dr. Rich was enforcing the Bobby Jindal code of justice and fair play.

It might be fine for Jindal to sell his books to his foundation in order to divert money from his non-profit into his pockets but no injured worker had a right to receive treatment for his injuries.

It might be fine for a legislator to lease luxury automobiles, pay ethics fines or even income taxes from campaign funds or for legislators to place relatives in state employment, but we just can’t have judges giving these deadbeat state employees a decent break.

And why not? The money-sucking appeals aren’t costing elected officials and bureaucrats anything. The tab is being picked by those clueless taxpayers. And besides, the state has plenty money.

The three-judge panel hearing the case includes appeal court judges John Michael Guidry, John T. Pettigrew and William J. Crain.

 

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